John Paul Jones became the first US naval hero of the American Revolution, and in many eyes the father of the US Navy. Later in his career he briefly became an Admiral in the Imperial Russian Navy, before ending his life in France. Yet he was born - with the name of John Paul - in 1747, the son of a gardener on the Solway coast south of Dumfries. A feature on his life can be found in our biography section here.
The cottage in which John Paul Jones was born at Arbigland, near Kirkbean, now forms part of a museum celebrating his life and his achievements. Two of the rooms in the cottage have been restored to give an impression of the living room and a bedroom at the time of John Paul Jones' childhood. A third room has been converted into a very evocative recreation of the captain's cabin on the Bonhomme Richard, the ship from which John Paul Jones commanded his small fleet to victory against ships of the Royal Navy in the Battle of Flamborough Head.
Outside the cottage is an attractive picnic area with views out over the Solway Firth, while a larger nearby building is home to the museum's main visitor centre. This houses a range of exhibits which include a superb bust of John Paul Jones made in 1780 by the sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon; and the gold medal awarded to Jones by the US Congress in 1787.
The centerpiece of the museum is a specially commissioned model of the Bonhomme Richard in a wooden case. This is built to a scale of 1:64; is constructed throughout of boxwood and ebony; and is fully rigged with all the standing and running rigging. The model was sponsored by the family of the late Admiral Sir Nigel Henderson and the Dumfries and Galloway European Partnership. The visitor centre is also home to the reception and to a small cafe.
For an attractive museum in a quiet corner of south-west Scotland, the John Paul Jones Museum has a story almost as as international as that of its subject. The idea of celebrating John Paul Jones' birthplace was the brainchild of the US Navy Admiral Jerauld Wright in the years after World War II. In 1953 a bronze plaque marking his birth was unveiled here by the then US Ambassador to Great Britain, Winthrop Aldrich.
After his retirement, Admiral Wright continued his efforts to restore the cottage to its condition in 1747. He was supported by retired Royal Navy Admiral Sir Nigel Henderson and the result was the formation in 1990 of a charitable trust. The John Paul Jones Museum was finally opened in 1993 by Vice Admiral Edward Clexton, USN. Much of the visitor centre you see today was the result of a major extension completed in 2003.
The really interesting thing is that Admiral Wright's role in bringing the museum about marked the second occasion in which the United States Navy had taken a hand in the fate of the cottage in which John Paul Jones was born. In 1832 a certain Lieutenant Pinckham of the US Navy came looking for the cottage and found it to be a roofless ruin. Lieutenant Pinckham responded by providing twenty-five sovereigns of his own money to cover repair costs, which allowed the Arbigland Estate to bring the cottage back into use. Without his intervention it is unlikely there would have been anything here worth restoring by the time Admiral Wright became interested in the 1940s.
Those interested in John Paul Jones will find other reminders of him in the local area. His father's grave is in the churchyard of Kirkbean Church, which is found about a mile and a half north-west of Arbigland: while John Paul Jones himself is remembered very strikingly in the name of a hotel in the resort village of Southerness, on the coast two miles south of the cottage in which he was born.